Ruiz Emerges As Phils' Hero in Game 3 Win

Mark KriegelCorrespondent IOctober 26, 2008

Carlos Ruiz stands about 5-foot-8, max. He's built like a fire hydrant and answers to the nickname "Chooch."

He can catch. "Always been a good defensive catcher," said his manager, Charlie Manuel. "He throws good."

The problem has been hitting. Or lack thereof. Chooch, who hails from David Chiriqui, Panama, hit .219 this season. Still, Manuel had a feeling earlier in the year. "That's why I stuck with Ruiz," he said. "Our team got hot."

And what do you know? As Ryan Howard's homer–less streak threatened to enter its second month, Ruiz found himself carrying Philadelphia at the plate. Tampa Bay could deal with Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley.

Through the first two games of the Series, the Phillies were 1-for-28—and without an RBI with runners in scoring position. But they couldn't keep Chooch off the bases.

He had been 2-for-2 with a pair of walks in the second game in Tampa. Saturday would be more of the same. In the second inning, he put Matt Garza's 94-mph fastball over the left-field fence. He walked again in the fifth. But the game's defining moment didn't come until Sunday morning, when October's newest hero strode to the plate.

I've never seen an infield configured quite like that, and I'm not sure the ballplayers had, either. The bases were loaded, nobody out, when Rays manager Joe Maddon went to a five-man infield.

Grant Balfour threw Ruiz five straight fastballs, between 94 and 96 mph. The count was 2-2 when he threw the sixth. Chooch swung like a .219 hitter. "I know I didn't hit the ball hard," he said. "But I knew we had a good chance to score."

Running to first, he couldn't see it, a weak chopper that barely stayed fair.

Eric Bruntlett, sprinting down the third-base line, didn't see it, either—not until the ball was sailing over his head. Evan Longoria had made a vain attempt at a shovel pass, trying to reach his catcher. But it was too late.

As he got close to first, Ruiz could hear what his weakly hit ball had done. He looked back to see his teammates and the fans erupt in celebration.

It felt better than the home run. "I'll take this every time," he said. "I'll remember this for the rest of my life."

And so, at 1:47 a.m. EST, the most improbable game of an improbable World Series came to its highly improbable conclusion.

Jamie Moyer, 0-2 with a 13.50 ERA this October, pitched masterfully in his World Series debut, not bad for a 45-year-old who made his major league debut during the Reagan administration.

Howard finally homered.

But most notably and least likely, the Rays had given away a game the Phillies tried to give away just an inning before. What's more, it was Ruiz who might have been cast as the culprit.

In the eighth, B.J. Upton singled and stole second. Then he stole third and scored on Ruiz's errant throw. The score was tied at four—the Rays having knocked in their runs on two ground balls, a sac fly and an error — as the press box readied itself for yet another installment on the Phillies' failures with runners in scoring position.

And then, J.P. Howell hit Eric Bruntlett with his fourth pitch of the ninth inning. "I was surprised," said Bruntlett, a late-inning defensive replacement. "He's got pretty good control."

In these circumstances that pass for irony, Bruntlett went to second on Balfour's wild pitch and then to third on a throwing error by the Rays' catcher, Dioner Navarro. With nobody out, Maddon decided to load the bases and try five infielders.

As it ended, with Ruiz coming to the plate, there were 17 players, umps and coaches strewn across the infield.

Bruntlett, who ran on contact, would recall his sprint down the line: "I feel like I should be running faster, but I can't."

Jamie Moyer was in the clubhouse, watching on TV with reliever Scott Eyre. "When Chooch hit that ball I think I went from my seat to the ceiling," he said.

It seemed as if everybody in Citizens Bank Park hit the ceiling.

Not long after that, Carlos Ruiz was asked about his error. Did he feel he had to make amends? Did he take it with him to the plate?

"I try not to think too much about the error," he said. "I don't want the pressure to go up."

Spoken like a true October hero.

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